Readers write: Nov. 25, 2013 issue

November 20, 2013 | Viewpoints | Number 23

Before progressing, we need to know our starting point

Re: "What’s ahead" editorial, Oct. 14, page 2.

Dick Benner is right to suggest that our "anchor" is the Corinthian passage on the foundational place of Jesus Christ in our Mennonite journey. His final line, "Canadian Mennonite will continue to push the edges, explore new pathways, and listen to our sisters and brothers as they call us to new witness and action, " is great. But it could be made better if Canadian Mennonite would not only "explore new pathways, " "push the edges, " and "call us to new witness," but also find ways of highlighting, recalling and celebrating that foundational Christocentric impulse of Anabaptism as articulated by the Apostle Paul.

Progressive theology only moves forward faithfully if we know the central starting point of all movement, which is Jesus Christ. It's by him that we discern which edges are faithful to push, which new pathways are healthful, and which "new witness" points us to the in-breaking kingdom of God, rather than to some other kingdom.

Marco Funk (online submission)

Looking for more 'meat' in Canadian Mennonite

Re: "What's ahead" editorial, Oct. 14, page. 2.

Thanks for the roadmap ahead: "more use of photography and video … personal expressions of faith … and vision and experience. "

Yesterday, my friend and I discussed why we can no longer stomach watching the 10 p. m. CBC TV news, even discounting the commercials: excessive graphics and raucous audio "branding" of the program; a focus on emotive topics; tedious interviews to solicit the wisdom of ordinary Canadians "on the street. "

I hope our vision for Canadian Mennonite will continue to seek a meatier level.

Peter Dick, Toronto

Young faith is worth protecting

Re: "A vital escort service for young adults" by Betti Erb, Sept. 30, page 25.

I want to express my sincere appreciation for this article. Because of my age (nearly 78 years old) I can associate a little with the author's metaphor of the warships protecting cargo ships from German U-boats during the Second World War. I see the warships as witnesses to faith protecting the valuable cargo—the young people—from being blown up by the U-boats. Also, she has given a profoundly vivid picture of the young people today in their battle of values.

Loella J. M. Eby, Kitchener, Ont.

No discipleship without salvation, reader maintains

Re: "Rethinking peace," Oct. 14, page 4.

Thank you so much for this feature by Evelyn Rempel Petkau. It provided excellent opportunity for readers to pause and carefully consider our peace witness from several vantage points. Like so many other issues, when it comes to the pursuit of peace, we so easily swing to one extreme of the pendulum or the other.

Gordon Allaby rightly highlights one end of that pendulum when he states, "The heresy we face today is salvation without discipleship." In my opinion, we are equally in danger when we swing to the opposite extreme of speaking about discipleship without salvation. We need both together!

We need our peace witness to flow from our experience of the atoning work of Jesus that was accomplished through his death and resurrection. When people ask us why we so ardently strive towards the reconciliation of people, we can respond by saying that it is a reflection of how God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus. "We love because he first loved us" (I John 4:19).

Ryan Jantzi, Clinton, Ont.

Belief in peace 'is in our blood'

Re: "Let nobody judge them," Oct. 28, page 6.

I happen to agree with Jacob H. Janzen's sentiment cited as the title for Ross W. Muir's feature article. I would hasten to add, however, a further statement by this venerable leader.

During a November 1940 exchange between Mennonite leaders and national war services officials, Deputy Minister LaFleche asked, "What will you do if we shoot you?" Janzen replied, "Listen, general, I want to tell you something. You can't scare us like that. I've looked down too many rifle barrels in my time to be scared in that way. This thing [belief in peace] is in our blood for 400 years and you can't take it away from us like you'd crack a piece of kindling over your knee. I was before a firing squad twice. We believe in this. "

The early church confession, "Jesus is Lord," was proclaimed boldly in a society which declared religiously and politically that "Caesar is Lord." Anabaptist Mennonites were just one of several renewal movements that sought to recapture the truths of that confession. Like such groups as the strongly pacifistic Waldenses and early Pentecostals, Anabaptists found that confession elaborated upon in such places as Christ's Sermon on the Mount. Yet, as Muir's article demonstrates, that core confession is always just a generation or two away from extinction.

For Mennonites, our Caesar may have been the kaiser, fuhrer, president or prime minister. Ever since that early church, Christians throughout the ages have had trouble remembering, as the recent Herald Press book title puts it, to be For God and Country (In That Order). How do we share that radical discipleship call in our own nationalistic or patriotic contexts?

It is, I believe, true that formal or informal shunning of those who stray beyond the boundaries has not proven an effective way of maintaining those persons or the faith. The challenge I read from Muir's history, and the larger contexts which qualify his findings, is that we need to focus more on our centre, those core radical truths that flow from recognizing Jesus as Lord. As Peter and the other apostles put it, "We must obey God rather than human beings" (Acts 5:29).

Ken Bechtel (online submission)

Working for peace can be a messy business

Thank you for publishing Ross W. Muir's excellent article, "Let nobody judge them, " as the feature in your Oct. 28 edition, page 6.

As a baby boomer born in the post-Second World War era, I have never had to face the difficult choices that my parents' generation did. And as a Canadian coming of age in the Vietnam War era, it was easy for us to have righteous indignation about the atrocities of that conflict. Of course, it was not so easy for our American counterparts.

Many Mennonites, myself included, have a certain ambivalence as Remembrance Day approaches. In more recent years, we make passing reference to "Peace Sunday" and the braver among us may wear "To remember is to work for peace" buttons.

However, like Muir, even those of us raised as Mennonites may have relatives, or relatives of our partners, who served in the military. How do we honour their memory? Does wearing a poppy glorify war or simply acknowledge the horror of it and remember the sacrifices?

Only in more recent decades have I learned about the kinds of Mennonite war stories that Muir references, including those of many Mennonites in Ukraine who were liberated by, and served in, the German military.

The essence of this dilemma is captured by Muir's quote from the late Frank Epp's 1969 Ottawa Mennonite Church sermon: "[We] would do well to recognize that both pacifists and militarists, seen in absolute terms either in theory or practice, are very hard to find . .. and both pacifists and non-pacifists have in common major sins of omission. "

As Epp noted, pacifists and militarists may not be as far apart as either side would like to believe. I think most Mennonites would agree that the rule of law is needed to maintain peace, both domestically and internationally. However, "working for peace, " however we understand it, can be messy business.

Brian Hunsberger, Waterloo, Ont.

Article appears to discredit our 'traditional pacifist stance'

Re: "Let nobody judge them," Oct. 28, page 6.

What is disturbing about Ross W. Muir's article is its apparent intent to discredit our people's traditional pacifist stance, documented lapses notwithstanding. It goes so far as to imply that conscientious objectors during the Second World War were, in fact, little better than shirkers and cowards.

Never mind what Jesus said about turning the other cheek, what about the notion that war is really nothing more than politically sanctioned insanity? In what other facet of our normal lives are we urged, if not coerced, to throw in our lot with such a colossally mad scheme? I think this was at the root of the widespread conscientious objection in America to the Vietnam conflict; namely, it became evident that war is just plain crazy, useless and stupid.

Curtis Driedger, Peterborough, Ont.

Unpleasant realities need to be named

Re: "Let nobody judge them," Oct. 28, 2013, page 6.

I'm glad to see the work of Nathan Dirks shared in Ross W. Muir's feature article. Dirks has done well to help us name the reality that not all who sit in Mennonite church pews hold to nonresistance as a response to violence.

As a Mennonite pastor, the wife of Peter Engbrecht asked me to visit him during the later stage of his life. Engbrecht was a decorated Canadian war hero, yet at the end of his life dealt with anguish over the killing he did and was part of. For me, this is also part of "Lest we forget." It is not about judging others, but about being realistic about the sacrifices we choose to make.

In the historical sense, I value my relationships with Second World War conscientious objectors and veterans alike. Recognizing the neglect of the church in the past to minister to those who returned from war, I am fearful of the continuing silence concerning veterans of Afghanistan. As Dirks suggests, I suspect there are many "Mennonite names" among those who have served recently in the military.

To my understanding, this is all the more reason for today's church leaders to speak up about the cost of being a peacemaker in the name of Christ. The current generation of young men and women deserve to know theological and practical alternatives to violence, and to have opportunities for peacemaking service.

Randy Klaassen (online submission)

A church apology to war vets 'would indicate growth'

Thanks to Ross W. Muir for his article on Mennonites and war, "Let nobody judge them," Oct. 28, page 6.

To demonstrate that nearly all "total pacifists" actually aren't, brings war down to a level of crime and prompts a few questions. If they don't dodge these—many do—they soon admit they dial 911 to summon cops with guns, and will defend themselves and others about as often as anyone. Cops are like local soldiers, and armies, if a military effort is justified, are like police forces. Crime violence and war violence are much the same.

In other words, it's easy to be a theoretical pacifist when conflicts are distant, but not so easy when violence is in your face. What would you probably do if you or your family were in danger or being attacked? What if your daughter was being raped? Such blunt questions offend some people, but isn't this what it boils down to? I love nonviolent ideals, but know most of us can't live them much in more hostile situations.

Muir relates how Mennonite churches and communities generally treated returning Second World War Mennonite vets with coldness. Well, things which threaten some people's black-and-white, one-size-fits-all answers to life may easily make them cold or angry. And a human fault is that we like to control others.

A decision to fight Nazism could ultimately only be a personal one, yet some "leaders" try to make such choices for others and sheep-like people fall in line. There's value in community, but sometimes it's more about pressure to conform.

As for an apology, I don't think one person can ever apologize for another for anything, so unless those people are still alive and doing the apologizing, it can only be a gesture. But such a gesture from churches and their broader organizations might be nice, however belated. It would indicate growth, if nothing else.

Howard Boldt, Saskatoon

Peace church should oppose Québec charter

Re: "A cause for concern? " Oct. 14, page 13.

As Anabaptists living in Québec, we were concerned when we read Willard Metzger's Viewpoint article about the Parti Québécois government's proposed Charter of Québec Values (now tabled as Bill 60). The proposed charter would ban the wearing of "ostentatious" religious symbols by state employees, including workers in hospitals, primary schools, universities and subsidized daycares.

Although the article makes several points with which we agree, its overall tone of acceptance of the charter project was perplexing. He seems to suggest that this project can be seen as an enlightened attempt to create a secular space in which no religion receives special privilege. However, it seems more likely to us that the proposition grows out of a fear and ignorance of the other, especially if the person is a relative newcomer who adheres to a religious tradition. Here is why we think so:

  • There has been a dramatic increase in racist incidents in the last month, mostly targeting Muslim women wearing hijabs. A local anti-Islamophobia organization recently reported receiving 117 complaints of "verbal or physical abuse" between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, compared to 25 in the previous seven months. The charter itself appears to be inciting this behaviour.
  • The PQ government is not basing its proposed charter on recommendations from the Bouchard/Taylor Report on reasonable accommodations in 2008. Co-author and McGill philosopher Charles Taylor has spoken out strongly against the proposed charter. In a Radio Canada interview in August, he called it an "absolutely terrible act of exclusion" and "something we would expect to see in Putin's Russia. "
  • The government-appointed Québec Human Rights Commission claims the charter would never survive a court challenge because it directly infringes on the province's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
  • The Muslim director of the private daycare that our daughters attend expressed feeling unwelcome and having difficulty finding clients because of a perception that she would indoctrinate the children, even though she runs it to government standards in every way.

We agree with Metzger that the charter should neither be ignored nor feared, but it certainly does not call for "sincere cooperation, " nor is it a "recognition of religious diversity, " as he suggests. As a peace church, we should actively resist Bill 60 by standing in solidarity with those targeted by the proposed law, and by promoting dialogue and understanding between those who increasingly mistrust and fear one another.

Anicka Fast and John Clarke, Montréal, Qué.

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